Test and learn. Try something, explore what works, measure what doesn’t, and adapt. Fail fast, learn quickly, and innovate. The layman knows this methodology as “trial and error”, but that doesn’t sound very professional very… “management”. Faced with the push towards a different way of delivering rankings for clients, this is what search agencies have to do, right? Test and learn.
Practitioners of technical SEO are smart folks. They can deconstruct a website; spot the technical obstacles to Google crawling a site and delivering a prominent search ranking. Increasingly, they ask good questions about user experience and will offer an educated view on a user’s journey from homepage to conversion – whether that’s an online till or signing up for a brochure or newsletter. This is valuable knowledge; expertise that has a clear commercial value for clients. But the theme of this week’s SearchLove conference, organised by Distilled, wasn’t really about technical expertise. The recurrent theme was the need for SEO agencies to evolve into digital marketing agencies.
Whether Richard Baxter from SEO Gadget, Wil Reynolds from Seer Interactive or Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz, the message at the Congress Centre in London was simple. Your audience is not Google. Your audience is your client’s customer. You need to know who they are, what and who influences them and lever what your client has that will seize and hold that audience’s attention.
Baxter offered insight into how to use Twitter tools to develop an outreach list based on what the people you want to reach are reading and sharing and who they are following. Influence the influencers. Reynolds’ advice was to forget “chasing the algorithm” – you’ll never outthink the 1,000 PhDs working for Google – and start to think about “Real Company Shit” (RCS): what is going to impact the bottom-line of the business. Google wants to deliver relevant results for its customers. Think about what would make a link relevant to the end user. Fishkin’s message was about earning a customer’s love. You can’t buy it, but you can earn it. Once you have it, cherish it. Yes, there were tips about new tools and tech that can help. But the theme was the application of old school marketing techniques for online audiences.
But that takes us back to the start. Trial and error.
The future of SEO is content and campaign-driven strategy: earning links with great content rather than buying them. So agencies need to test and learn, right? Try out different structures, workflows, methods of trying to brainstorm killer content ideas? Fail fast and adapt?
There are organisations in most towns and cities with departments dedicated to the delivery of content day by day, and in many cases hour by hour. Think broadcasters, the successful online and offline PR agencies and some of the major content-producing blogs. Ask MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis how many bloggers he employs and odds are he’ll tell you he employs financial journalists and that he runs a news operation. He does. Yes, think newspapers too. Forget the debate over print versus web, newspapers are content producing machines.
Learn from what works. Learn from processes that others have refined over decades. If you run an SEO agency, a little time investigating the mechanics and workflows of content creation from those who are doing it day after day will be research time well spent. Why start with a blank piece of paper? Apply what you can see working elsewhere to the scale of the agency you are – and the scale you want to get to.
So SEO, with a little gentle encouragement from Google, is evolving. The smart agencies will want to learn how to run through that evolution as quickly as possible rather than waste valuable time learning to walk.